Trouble on the Inventory Shelves

By: Ken Fivizzani, ACS Safety Expert

Ken speaks to the importance of actively managing and controlling the bad actors on the chemical inventory shelves

Chemical, Healthcare And Medicine Warehouse

Management of chemical inventory is a problem that is particularly vexing for both research laboratories and manufacturing facilities. Setting up a chemical inventory usually requires significant effort, in terms of both time and money. A second insidious challenge is maintaining the inventory. Who ensures that every laboratory chemical received by the organization, including vendor samples, chemicals sent by academic researchers, and samples shipped to or brought into the facility by coworkers from other locations get into the inventory?

It is understandable that such problems can, over time, reduce the reliability of an organizational inventory of chemicals. Researchers may find it much easier and quicker to order what they need; they may not report purchases to an inventory manager. Staff members who synthesize new or complex materials are adding to the inventory.

While many chemicals are stable for years if stored in a proper and closed container, there are other materials that do not age well. Picric acid (2, 4, 6-Trinitrophenol, similar to TNT) is a classic example of a “bad actor.” Characterized as highly flammable and toxic, picric acid is commonly sold in a moist state containing about 35% water. If this material dries out, it could be explosive. Diethyl ether is used commonly in laboratories. When stored for a long time, explosive peroxides can form and explode upon concentration or sudden shock. There are many potentially dangerous chemicals for which age increases the hazard.

Other chemicals are always dangerous. Some examples are the gases HF, HCN, H2S, arsine, phosgene; all peroxide-forming compounds; Hg, Na, and K metals; hydrofluoric and perchloric acids. Large storage facilities can have serious risks storing large quantities. In its pure form, ammonium nitrate is stable, but heat, confinement, contamination, and shock can lead to fire and detonation. There have been many widely destructive detonations of ammonium nitrate

We need to keep a current and correct accounting of the bad actors in our labs. Each organization must develop a list of dangerous materials present at its labs and plants. Each purchase must be documented. Label these materials with the date purchased, the date opened, and an appropriate expiration date. Properly dispose of materials that increase their hazard over time as soon as the current project is completed. Document the disposal.

Does your lab have an annual clean-up event that includes disposal of outdated chemicals? Consider offering a prize to the staff member who finds the oldest container. Do not move the potential explosives! Get professional emergency responders to remove them.

With all the research chemicals in our laboratories and plants, we need to actively manage and control the bad actors. When ignored or forgotten, these materials become trouble on our shelves. 

This article has been edited for length and clarity. The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of their employer or the American Chemical Society.

Copyright 2021 American Chemical Society (All Rights Reserved)

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